Fuck Flaubert, Fuck Socrates and Plato

Guy fixes his car behind a tree in Brooklyn

One of the effects of moving around all the time is that you’re never doing things for as long as you think you are. Even when you feel like you’ve been doing something too long, and that you’re becoming boring and stale, you have been doing things for less time than other people.

Well, that illustrates the problem, really, with comparing yourself to other people. Is the above paragraph supposed to reassure me? Am I actually supposed to feel less bad about doing the same things every week because I have been doing the same things every week for less time than other people I know have?

Guy fixes his car behind a tree in Brooklyn

Here is a wildlife

Nah fuck it, I can’t be doing the same thing every week. At the same time, I should focus and do the same thing every single day all the fucking time forever so that I can be really great at shit. Like Flaubert said, be boring in your life so you can be wild in your work, something like that.

You know what fuck Flaubert. Fuck listening to other people and quoting them and shit. People say that we have to listen to people that were here before us or else we have to build the universe from nothing and how far are we going to get from our birth to our death? How far is a human infant going to get in this world without instruction?

I don’t know the answer to that whole thing, but fuck it. I’ll tell you the thing is that I don’t really know shit about Flaubert. I read Madame Bovary, the English translation, and I read a couple of things about his life and I read that quote about being wild and original in your work and how it requires having a boring ass life schedule.

That’s all I know about Flaubert, but that’s enough for me to be like, oh I should change my life based on the teachings of Flaubert. You know what that is? That’s what Socrates was worried about when the first writing machine came out. People can go around pretending to know shit because they read it one time in a book. You can learn shit without effort, or at least appear to have learned shit without effort.

And the best part is I never read anything that Socrates wrote, first of all because he never wrote anything and second of all because I didn’t even read the shit that Plato said that he said, and yet I can talk about how he was scared of the danger inherent in book learning with the greatest of ease and pass it off as intimate knowledge based on some shit I’ve absorbed through cultural osmosis.


The Winter of 2015

I just finished reading three books (Tess of the d’UrbervillesThe Ghostwriter by Philip Roth, and Better Than Sex by Hunter Thompson). I may have read The Ghostwriter too fast but I’m not in the mood for picking apart a tiny novel loaded with literary allusions and stylistic nuance. I don’t know why my book guy at work decided now was a good time for Philip Roth. Next on the list in that vein is Portnoy’s Complaint. Then Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I’m still a hundred pages out on Anxious Decades, the book about America from the 20s to the 40s. Tess was good but the ending was necessarily depressing.

I don’t remember a time when I was reading as often as I am now, except maybe elementary school. I think reading has gotten me out of my own head and that is always good for my mental well-being, although, like the famous writer character in The Ghostwriter, I’m loathe to do anything that might compromise my writing potential. What I’m learning is that state of boredom and depression doesn’t produce good writing, it just produces hours of time to think about writing something good.

Today I went to the gym and ran a mile in six minutes fifteen seconds. My best time ever was five minutes thirty eight seconds when I was on the track team in high school. I’m ten years older now, so I figure that’s pretty good. My goal is to go to the gym five times a month every month of this year. I am starting to feel more energetic as of a couple of days ago. People always told me that exercising makes you have more energy, but I would exercise and then go to sleep. I did that today, in fact. Yesterday I was thinking to myself, You know what I don’t do anymore? Fall asleep when I am trying to write. Sweet! and then today I came home and tried to finish reading a book and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. That used to happen to me all the time. I used to think I had narcolepsy or some shit. But anyway, yeah I never noticed an increase in energy after working out, but I think what they didn’t tell me or perhaps what I didn’t hear is that it comes on slowly and seems to be unrelated to when you actually work out. Or maybe these past few days I’ve been feeling more energetic because I am reading more. I don’t know. Today I didn’t feel as energetic as I did yesterday.

Still not dreading, which is good but weird and almost weird enough to make me start dreading the day when I will dread things again. It reminds me of this post by The Babe about not trusting a good mood. However, I’m out of the reach of those thoughts right now, somehow, so as I type this I don’t actually have those feelings of paranoia, but I do remember them enough to question why I don’t have them. It’s as if I’m living on a higher plane. Throughout this post I have tried to throw in a fuck or god damn but they haven’t been fitting in. Too emotional for the rarefied air here.

I haven’t been writing any fiction, but I have had some insights into a method that might work for me. I like to type fast and I don’t like to look at what I’ve written unless it’s a completed thing. I like editing, but then I usually don’t like what’s left after I cut up what I wrote. It’s like a tortured building. It was a drawing of a building, but then I built it and realized it wasn’t a good building, so I hammered on parts and added other parts on, and the added parts are all glittering and out of place, and then I gild that shit somehow and then sand the whole thing down. If I liked editing, I would go back and delete that whole weird metaphor. So anyway, I think a lot of my writing is thinking. Not the idle kind of thinking I do constantly, but focused thinking. Like sitting the fuck down and forcing myself to think of the same thing for me than five minutes. There, I got a fuck in at least.

The emotion is coming back now that I’ve had a beer, or half of one, which is as good as a whole one I guess since I haven’t had one since Sunday and even then it was only one. However I refuse to entertain the thought that my increase in energy and my decrease in dread is because I’m drinking less. No, it must be something more complicated.

Anyway, I’m going to Vermont for a week soon, and I intend to bring nothing to do there, save perhaps one good, long ass book, but I’m debating even that. I must have learned nothing if I think that I can go there and just write for the whole week. If I don’t bring a book I’ll just sit drooling on myself in an armchair until I decide to go to a movie. Oh I forgot to mention that my wife will be away at class for almost the whole time, so that’s why I will have plenty of time to drool on myself.

Someday these last few months will coalesce into one memory of a time when I woke up and made coffee and my wife was always worried about her school and I read a hundred books and I bided my time at work until I could ask for the good shifts. I hope I will remember this time fondly, but I hope I won’t remember it like I do the winter of 2013: fondly, but looking with pity at a young man on a course towards his own (temporary) ruin. Just so I’m not being annoyingly cryptic, I’m referencing here that time I quit my job, went back to it, and then drank enough to get fired.

Maybe I’ll look back on these days as the time when I wrestled emotions, doubts, depression, paranoia, narcissism and nihilism to the ground, shackled and chained them to a ramshackle sled made of raw will and rode that bitch to glory.

Some Shit I’ve Been Doing on the Edge of 2014

I’m five posts shy of my goal of 200 posts, but fuck it, pretty close. For the last ten days I’ve been thinking of posting but then I didn’t do it. I only posted three months out of this year anyway.

I am back in working mode and I haven’t written anything for days. Maybe weeks. I finished reading Sense and Sensibility and started Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. The same guy lent it to me. I also downloaded Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy so I can read it in the dark.

I am working a lot more on my book projects. Just trying to stack up some paper, you know. Fuck it. I’m going to meet this guy soon. The old guy I’ve been working for over the phone and internet is going to roll up into Brooklyn in about thirty minutes. He’s an irascible character so it should be a good time. I am not looking forward to it.

I have a lot of other shit to do today and I’ve already done a lot of shit. And today is my only day off. And I told the other restaurant I would work there a couple days a week so maybe it’s my last day off ever. Well, at least until February, and then I’m going up to Vermont for a week.

Something I learned from thinking back on my wedding is generally those times we plan for are the only things we really remember. Life goes by in a blur since we’re doing the same thing over and over again but the days that we made a point of doing something different, especially if we had to think about it for weeks beforehand, or longer, are the days that define a life. I’ve thought about it before in a different, more depressing way. Like how Steinbeck describes it in Out of Eden, something about life going by without any signposts to hang a memory on. Well, those planned days are the signposts, and that’s not really all that bad. So instead of avoiding the boring, tedious work of constructing signposts in hope that a really cool one will just pop up a couple of times a week, I’m spending a lot of time planning this trip.

And I’m spending a lot of time not caring about what happens in the meantime. I’m trying to think long term, like yearly. Kind of like I was saying about throwing 2015 away. If you take your life in year chunks instead of day chunks, it’s like if you waste a year, no big deal. And forget about wasting a day, that’s pretty much a given for every day. As long as you do something really cool for a couple days out of a year maybe every ten years, well you pretty much had a good life.

And read books in the meantime. And get drunk at least a little bit a lot of the time.

Also I’m not eating a lot, but I think it’s making me fatter. I don’t care though, because it’s winter time and it’s cold as a bitch out here.

Boring Review of Interesting Book

I stopped writing because I had to finish Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, which is a title I still don’t understand. I hope something was lost in translation.

Anyway the book was captivating and very enjoyable.

The protagonist’s obsession with himself threw me off in the beginning, especially, as I said, coming from Hugo’s broad narration in Les Miserables, but in the end the story and ideas therein were more than worth putting up with the narrator. In fact by the end he’s like an interesting friend.

There are a lot of fantastic elements in the book but the writing is very confident and so they come off as realistic.

The plot wasn’t full of twists and turns but he creates suspense by interspersing two worlds from chapter to chapter and making you wonder how they are connected. The worlds draw nearer and nearer to each other as the book goes on so for the last two-thirds of the book nothing else in life mattered but getting to the end.

This is why I don’t read as much as I’d like to, or watch TV, because I just can’t stop till I get to the end.

Life As a Series of External Events

A few days ago these two guys I work with, one is a Shakespearean actor and the other is a cinephile, started talking about books, so I got involved. I don’t think that the conversation helped anyone. Before I knew it, I was telling them which translation of Crime and Punishment is the best and why, the actor was telling me that I was confusing Robert Heinlein with Werner Heisenberg (I wasn’t), and I think none of us are going to read what the others were suggesting. I never really talk about books out loud but I don’t think I will try again. It felt like we were masturbating in a circle in a crowded kitchen.

Today I’m going in early to take care of this health insurance bullshit. I am making lists and trying to plan things. Yesterday I was walking to work and I thought about what kind of life I really want to have. I couldn’t think of anything besides cutting down trees of course.

I tried to think about why do I even read books. Do I really read the classics because they are entertaining, or so I can tell people I’ve read them? I hope I read them because they express eternal truths, but I don’t know. I like the idea that stories tell a truth that can not be told any other way. The fact that I slogged through Les Miserables and then sped up through the ending as it got more entertaining shows that I read it for entertainment and pleasure. But then I think I should read Sparknotes so that I can understand what the characters are supposed to represent and all. But then maybe I should just go back and try to figure out that for myself. But then there are so many other books to read.

I decided again that I have a bad attitude and a tendency to complain because it’s fun. But then maybe that leads to actually feeling more miserable overall. And then I tried to think that I thought about myself too much anyway, and that’s why I was miserable. And maybe if I could just think of others or of the world as a whole or just focus on action or focus on whatever I need to focus on, then I could have a successful life.

But I already have a pretty successful life. I wake up reasonably late, I work few hours and yet still pay all my bills, I’m in good health (at least superficially), I’m married. Maybe I should just stop thinking about it. I think I have a good life when I don’t think about it. Like when I consciously put my life on hold when a friend comes over. Or when I have to work a lot and I just think of the days as already wasted so I don’t put any thought into it, or try to achieve something extra.

Maybe if I could just focus on writing as a technique driven exercise I would be happier doing it. John Gardner says most of what you write you write because you have to get this character into this room or you have to foreshadow something or you have to create some character to create this emotion in another character. Maybe if I could just focus on accomplishing some definite action while I’m writing, then I would be better at it and create more. And he says that when you write the story, your interpretation of the story must come out of you since it’s you that is writing it. So instead of trying to say whatever you want to say, just write the story and the truth that you have discovered will end up in there.

Maybe that’s like life.

Maybe if I just focus on the action of life, while being present and engaged, then whatever meaning there is won’t end up there because I thought about it half the day and thereby put myself into a narcissistic black hole, but it will be there because I did those actions. Maybe that way my life can be clean and pure, like a weathered old man in the tundra cutting down a tree.

A Paragraph About Books In Between Two Paragraphs About Nothing

I started reading Sense and Sensibility since it’s free on the iBooks store and I can’t always be carrying around that paper book. Or reading it late at night with no light on. I don’t have a lamp in here so if I want to read late at night I have to use the phone.

The Murakami book is going okay, but not as awesome as I thought it would. It reminds me of Gary Shteyngart’s novels probably because it’s in the first person and he’s talking about what kind of girl he finds attractive. I think coming from the classics and then reading contemporary stuff you really notice the increased attention paid to the self. The first person p.o.v. is really jarring after Hugo’s third person omniscient. In comparison, the transition to Austen’s more stylized but still omniscient narration in Sense and Sensibility has been smooth and I’m much more drawn to continue reading. But I have to finish this damnable text so I can get it back to its owner.

Now that I’m reading more I don’t feel like writing. And I’m getting so much more done around the house. Logistics stuff that is still important, like signing up for health care. And going to the gym. But I want to want to write…or maybe not. Maybe there’s still time to go to law school and become an executive assistant to a mid level hedge fund manager where I get paid 70k a year to sort mail and answer the telephone.

Richard Feynman in Central Park

I dreamed of a coffeehouse full of toys and couldn’t find a place to return my dirty dishes and when I did they had all become screws and it was necessary to sort them into specific compartments. I dropped them on the floor and a fluffy white dog went to eat them so I picked them up but they multiplied like hydra heads and my wife was waiting outside with arugula in her hair.

Yesterday I went to Central Park for the first time since moving here. My good friend came with me and we stopped at a mini book fair on the way. He bought a book of Japanese Poetry and I wished I could commit to reading Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I couldn’t commit because here in my apartment sit a small detachment of my army of books, the rest of which I’ve locked in storage on Fulton Street in East New York, and I’ve decided not to move until I’ve read all of them.

Good Friend found a copy of On the Road and handed it to me and I remembered why I haven’t read either Good Omens or Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. It’s because I keep rereading On the Road and Catch 22.

We walked through the park for about half an hour, took some pictures and threw a few loose quarters at a guy playing an Erhu. There were two guys actually, in separate parts of the park, but the first sounded like a train derailment shrouded in sackcloth and ashes.

Then we walked out of the park and I said, “I’m unimpressed.”

Good Friend said he thought it was great but I could tell he thought it was good.

We walked up the west side of the park looking for a bodega to get some stakeout coffee without realizing that we were in the one place in the world least likely to contain a bodega. This fact became apparent after a few blocks and I looked at the map on my phone to find a more likely location.

We were surprised to see that the blue dot indicated we had covered only about one percent of Central Park. Richard Feynman said, “Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deep enough.” Gordon Flanders said, “Walk around dispassionately. Nearly everything is really a waste of time if you go into with the right attitude.”